FRONT ROYAL – Born out of deep pain and family loss, Bryant Green’s vision of bringing people to the country for prime seafood is taking shape in the unlikeliest of places.
Along Royal Avenue in downtown Front Royal are a series of gas stations and convenience stores. Stopping in at any one of them, commuters, hikers getting away from it all or locals who have been here all their lives can grab a bite to eat, a snack or a soda.
At one, the Liberty gas station at 507 N. Royal Ave., a faint smell of the ocean drifts outside. A sandwich sign out front announces the home of “Talk of the Mountain Seafood, Virginia’s number one crab cake.”
Inside, one man sits at a table, a tray filled with raw crab meat weighed out into half-pound balls in front of him. Behind the counter, amid the sizzling of the deep fryer and smooth music ringing out, Green is a flurry of motion. A Bluetooth headset in his ear, he stops to greet each new customer before getting back to work.
Green said the location fell into his lap. The owner of the building had been following Green on Facebook as he took Talk of the Mountain Seafood around town and said he should move into the gas station. Not long after, Green moved in and his business took off. The owner of the building died, and her last gift was giving Green a chance to put down roots with the business he started after his dad died.
“I looked at her like my angel,” Green said. “She got me in here and then she went home.”
Green’s history with food is long and storied. The undersized catcher prospect’s baseball coaches used to haul him to the original Five Guys in Arlington to get him up to size. He didn’t eat much meat, he said, so his coaches figured they would load him up with boardwalk fries instead.
Green told his family he wanted to work at Five Guys, even while he was toiling away at following his father’s footsteps of playing baseball.
Five Guys told him he was too small to work there, Green said.
“When my mom passed away, I went by myself (to Five Guys) and got some fries and they seen I was sad,” Green said. “I told ‘em what happened and I was like, ‘Can I work here?’”
The deal, Green said, was that he had to cut a 55-pound bag of potatoes for fries in a minute and a half. Green took just over one second per potato, finishing in 56 seconds.
After cutting his teeth on the ground floor of Five Guys, Green left for the Army for 10 years — the only break he has had away from the foodservice business since he started in 1990.
Following a successful streak of opening and running restaurants, another family loss shook Green loose, vaulting him into his latest enterprise.
Green said he came up with the name of his business as he sat in his family’s cemetery after his dad died. Green said to himself that people were going to be talking about him. He said he was going to be the talk of the town. That chain of thought spawned the name for his next business, “Talk of the Mountain Seafood.”
“I took that name, I took it to the side of the road I went with my dad as a kid where we would wait for people before we went to church,” Green said. “I set up hot pink signs, putting “Virginia’s number one crab cake.” … People just stopped. They had never seen someone selling crab cakes on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.”
Green moved up from the side of the road and away from the middle of nowhere to the Liberty station on Main Street but the setting doesn’t inspire confidence in everyone, he said.
“When they come in and try it, they’re blown away,” he said. “I say, when you’re on the road, you stop at Sheetz, you eat at McDonald’s in a gas station. You eat at Subway in a gas station. Why not the best seafood you can find?”
As he has moved up from cutting potatoes and roadside stands, Green said he has a vision for Front Royal. He grew up in the city but loved the country, he said. He didn’t land in Front Royal by accident.
Front Royal attracts all sorts of people interested in food, Green said. People are coming here and doing interesting things and he said he wants to be a part of that.
The goal, he said, is to leave his mark on the state, and the state to leave a mark on the seafood industry.
“Everybody wants to go to the city to find seafood,” he said. “I wanted to do something in the opposite direction. I chose Front Royal, which is starting to become a town of Foodie Ville … I said I’m going to put Front Royal, I’m going to put Virginia on the map.”
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This story has been updated to include the address of Talk of the Mountain.